Real Madrid could go into their Champions League semi-final first leg with Bayern Munich without Gareth Bale after the Welshman was kept away from the rest of the squad having suffered a bout of flu on the eve of the Santiago Bernabeu clash.
The rest of the squad stayed together at the club’s private hotel at the Valdebebas training ground but Bale, who scored the winner in the 2-1 Copa del Rey victory over Barcelona last week, had complained of nausea and was kept isolated from his Real team-mates.
Should Bale miss out, Angel Di Maria will join Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in an attacking trio, although there are still questions over the fitness of Ronaldo having not played since the quarter-final first leg win over Borussia Dortmund at the beginning of the month. The Portuguese faces a fitness test ahead of tonight’s match, but Carlo Ancelotti will be desperate to have at least two of his in-form BBC combination available, and the loss of both Bale and Ronaldo would leave Benzema isolated in the lone striker role.
Should Bale miss out on the squad completely, it will come as a huge blow for the Italian manager who has spent the pre-match build-up to the crucial tie with the reigning Champions League holders talking up the talents of the £86m signing.
A guide to the Champions League semi-finalists
A guide to the Champions League semi-finalists
1/4 REAL MADRID
Best: Winners (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002)
Star man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti – has won the league in England, France and Italy, as well as the Champions League twice with Milan, and is now expected to deliver ‘la decima’ – Real Madrid’s tenth European title
Top scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (14)
Top assist: Karim Benzema/Angel Di Maria (both 5)
Overview: After sailing through the group stages unbeaten, and then dispatching Schalke 9-2 in the last 16, Real Madrid were the form team in the tournament until their scare against Dortmund. The 2-0 defeat in Germany, albeit without their talisman Ronaldo, has revealed a chink in the armour, but you still wouldn’t want to draw them.
Best: Winners (2012)
Star man: Eden Hazard
Manager: Jose Mourinho – The ‘Special One’ is looking to become the first manager to win the competition with three different teams having succeeded at Porto and Inter
Top scorer: Samuel Eto’o/Demba Ba/Fernando Torres (all 3)
Top assist: Oscar (4)
Overview: Despite losing twice to unfancied Basel, Chelsea topped their group and saw off the tricky task of Galatasaray in the last 16. Needed a last minute goal to scrape past PSG in the quarter-final, and will go into the semi-finals as underdogs – as they did in 2012.
3/4 BAYERN MUNICH
Best: Winners (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013)
Star man: Franck Ribery
Manager: Pep Guardiola – in his first season at Barcelona he won a treble that included the Champions League, and he’s on course to do the same in his first season at Bayern. If he does it his place among the greats will no longer be in doubt.
Top scorer: Thomas Muller (5)
Top assist: Arjen Robben/Phillip Lahm (both 3)
Overview: Aside from a defeat at home to Manchester City, by which stage qualification was already secured, Bayern have been almost perfect, blowing away Arsenal and Manchester United in the knock-out stages. Favourites to become the first team in the Champions League era to retain the title.
4/4 ATLETICO MADRID
Best: Runners-up (1974)
Star man: Diego Costa
Manager: Diego Simeone – the only manager left who was at his club last season, Simeone has built a team performing beyond the resources of Atletico, with a real shot at a first Spanish title since 1996.
Top scorer: Diego Costa (7)
Top assist: Gabi (4)
Overview: Atletico are the only unbeaten team left in the competition, and having seen off Milan and Barcelona they deserve their place in the semi-finals. They may be the only team left never to have won a European title, but they can no longer be considered underdogs, and everyone will want to avoid them.
Speaking ahead of the match against Pep Guardiola’s side, Ancelotti said: “Gareth is quite happy.
“He is motivated with a lot of confidence after a goal like the goal he scored against Barcelona in the final. I don’t think the goal will scare Bayern but a goal like this will always bring more confidence.
“He had a few problems in the beginning but he was comfortable with everyone at the club from the moment he started to train. Now he is really good. He has scored a lot of goals. He plays for the team.
“He is going to improve next season. When he starts to train with us in the summer he will not have to play at the World Cup. I think next season he will be better. We can be really happy for next season.”
The meeting with Bayern represents Bale’s biggest stage so far in his still-young career, having reached the Champions League quarter-finals with Tottenham in 2010-11 when, coincidentally, Real Madrid eliminated Spurs via a 5-0 aggregate thrashing.
Bale has pushed on in recent weeks, scoring six goals in six games which included a double against Rayo Vallecano as well as a goal against Dortmund and the cup-winner against Barcelona, in which the 24-year-old sprinted over half the pitch and even ran into the technical area to get around defender Marc Batra before slotting the ball beneath Jose Pinto to clinch the trophy for Real.